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BACKGROUND: Acute transfusion reactions (ATRs) are probably underdiagnosed in critically ill children because associated symptoms can frequently be attributed to the patient’s underlying disease. This study was undertaken to determine the incidence, type, imputability, and severity of ATRs observed in a tertiary care pediatric intensive care unit (PICU).

STUDY DESIGN AND METHODS: All transfusions of labile blood product administered to consecutive patients admitted to our PICU, between February 2002 and February 2004, were prospectively recorded. For each transfusion, the bedside nurse recorded the patient’s status before, during, and up to 4 hours after the transfusion, as well as the presence of any new sign or symptom suggesting an ATR. Three independent experts retrospectively reviewed all transfusion event reports and hospital charts. The presence, type, imputability, and severity of ATRs were adjudicated by consensus of two of three experts (Delphi method), with predefined criteria.

RESULTS: A total of 2509 transfusions were administered to 305 patients during the study. Forty transfusion events (1.6%) were confirmed to be ATRs by expert consensus: 24 febrile nonhemolytic, 6 minor allergic, 4 isolated hypotension, 3 bacterial contamination, 1 major allergic (anaphylactic shock), 1 TRALI, and 1 hemolytic reaction. Imputability of ATRs was probable or possible in 35 cases (88%). ATRs led to an immediate vital threat in 15 percent of cases.

CONCLUSION: Improved surveillance of transfusions given to PICU patients and better knowledge of these reactions by health care professionals should improve the safety of transfusions in the PICU.